"Determined to fall in love, 15-year-old Adèle is focused on boys. But it's a blue-haired girl she meets on the street who really piques her interest."
That is the Netflix snippet on Abdellatif Kechiche's Blue Is the Warmest Color... and after watching, it's one of the most inaccurate descriptions of a movie that I've ever read... which is a good thing. The film is so much more interesting and powerful than those two sentences even attempt to imply.
I suppose the first question would be, what is this movie really about? As much as some people may beg to differ... it's not just lesbians and sex. At its base, it's a love story, about passions colliding from different worlds. What really sets it apart though, is its depiction and relatability of that love and passion... especially all the emotions that come along for the ride. What really worked for me were the slow and believable settings of every day life with Adèle. From walking to, and missing, the bus, to sitting in class and at the dinner table... it forces us to be involved and invested in Adèle as a person, and not just a piece of the story. Also, she likes gypsy music, hates screaming music and likes gyros and Kubrick... sounds like a good and interesting person to me! Anyway, I never felt like she was determined to fall in love, only determined to stay there once she was. She was never focused on boys, but went along with what she thought was normal and expected of her... clearly confused and trying to figure our her sexuality. So yeah, it's Adèle's story of finding oneself, growing, loving, hurting, losing, and living.
We're given the entire process... pre relationship to post relationship. We see the insecure teenager who is trying to fit in with her friends, but clearly doesn't feel completely comfortable with her sexuality. We see instances that push her curiosity, and uncertainty, and we see that develop into a full blown relationship built on time, effort and love. We then see it slowly crumble from such insecurities and uncertainties and how difficult moving on can be.
The great thing about this, is that we are shown all of it. The movie is three hours, but for good reason. Hardly ever does an audience get to be so involved in a relationship at every aspect and actually see and feel the all of emotions and reactions that the characters carry. And it's all given a heightened sense of realism.. through the high school fights and immaturity, dancing, laughing, believable conversations, emotional eating, carrying difficult emotions at work, around others, returning to memorable places and moments, etc. We see a lot of what may seem unnecessary and mundane, but vital to the feeling of the film. We get relationship and sexual parallels within every day settings. We are shown the collision of two different worlds as well... one upper class, liberal and encouraged to pursue a life of passion, the other middle class and conservative, pushed to be practical and do what's expected. Adèle coming out of her comfort zone, as seen when she is trying oysters served in Emma's world. But we see her falling back into what she knows when insecurities creep back, such as making and serving the spaghetti, which she was so used to in her world. Normal things like worrying about the way Emma looks at Lise, or feeling alone and uncertain. Everybody who has been in a relationship can relate to something Adèle does or feels at some point in her story, and that's driven by how it's presented.
One of my favorite things about the movie is that the story is not only told through the characters, but also complimented by the readings, lectures, and, discussions of books that we hear throughout. I'm going back through some of those scenes as I write this so I can better recall what they told us. The first reading we hear talks about the heart missing something, but not knowing what it is (which comes up again in conversation). And the teacher brings up love at first sight... the glance shared between people crossing paths. Which is how it all starts for Adèle with Emma. Is it regret? Destiny? Something else entirely? The first reading also mentions love starting off sincere, but falling into a desire to please. The next lecture mentions being little, not feeling mature or strong enough, and making the choice to not feel little anymore. And more importantly, that 'tragedy is unavoidable.' I think this pretty much tells us that things are gonna get bad at some point... which for me, was foreshadowed with the way difference in taste were so readily presented to us... such as the Strawberry Milk drink, eating the skin, etc. Tragedy was unavoidable.
Next, Emma tells Adèle of Sartre, and how 'define ourselves by our actions' giving 'us a great responsibility,' to which Adèle says she didn't understand. The next talks about vice being natural occurrence, and that everything eventually gets perverted. All of these parallel Adèle's story with Emma. It's also here where we see Adèle become less interested in her classes, a stark contrast to how she enjoyed and paid attention to the discussions before her focus shifted to Emma. From here, we have Adèle reading to her class. First a story of a lamb and wolf... and with every knock, the fear of the wolf coming back. This is at a time where Adèle is doing what she loves, but of course there's the threat of her insecurities and loneliness coming back, along with the scene's focus on her co-worker... leading directly into the party that really starts to stir those feelings. Our final reading is a poem that Adèle has her first graders read entitled "No Need", that seems to say, there is no need to do or be something you're not, when you already have the means to reach the desired outcome. To me, it's Adèle having no need of Emma to continue her story... to move on, to mature, and be happy with herself and her life... even if she still doesn't fully understand yet. I'm sure some of that could be a stretch or just simple taken a completely different way by others... but I thought it was an interesting component to an already genuine and believable story.
Of course, that story was elevated even higher by the directing and acting. First off, the acting was absolutely outstanding. I always feel good when I get through a movie and don't feel like any small roles were completely miscast or misplayed, no bad parts that end up being a large distraction. More importantly, the lead roles were cast and played near flawlessly. Adèle Exarchopoulos, as Adèle, has to jump toward the top of our Best Actress list. She gave us an incredible range of emotions, everyone of them believable... and yet always returning to her base expression of uncertainty and insecurity that was presented so honestly. She apparently received nearly 40 nominations, and deserved every bit of the praise. We can expect to see her in plenty of Hollywood films in the future... starting with a role alongside Javier Bardem and Charlize Theron in an upcoming Sean Penn film. Not to be outdone, Léa Seydoux was also spot on as Emma. We've seen her before (Inglorious Basterds, Grand Budapest Hotel), and she's soon to be the next Bond Girl. It's really difficult to find any fault in how the two leads played their roles, so it's really nothing but praise, as their performances made the movie.
There's also been quite the controversy over how they were treated by Kechiche during filming, although all parties rightfully seem pleased with the result. Kechiche's directing and choices were a big part of that, no doubt. His most notable choice of shots, is definitely the close up. The way Kechiche chose to show their expressions and bodies made every thing feel more intimate and real. Of course, the constant blue tones and dominance of the blue from Emma's hair, Adèle's sheets, the smoke bomb, Beatrice's nails during Adèle's first kiss with another girl... to how the blue seems to be less prominent when she's happy with Emma, only to return again after this go bad. He made good use of the color and it's attachment to emotion. It's also a nice touch that the only artist Adèle really seemed to know/mention was Picasso, having his whole "blue period" and all. In the end, I think we truly get to see the product that Kechiche envisioned... I don't think the mentioning of Kubrick was a coincidence, as he was known for strict directing and a tough atmosphere in order to get every shot just how he wanted. Kechiche even throws in a jab at himself in the end, about ball busting directors. Unlike the actresses, however, he doesn't get all praise. Kechiche is responsible for the gripes I do have.
The sex scenes have been a big topic, of course. For me, there's some good and some bad to how these were done. The good, is that they felt real and intense for Adèle and Emma within the atmosphere of the film. We see and feel Adèle go from curious and unsure to becoming a confident and eager lover. As mentioned before, the close ups, especially of their faces, really bring out the passion and energy of the scenes. On the other hand, a part of it just felt like Kechiche was fulfilling a fantasy of filming/directing lesbian scenes, and this was just his vision of that. If it wasn't for the story and acting surrounding it, it really just would have been lesbian porn. It actually reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend about sex scenes in shows, especially gay scenes. He was hesitant to watch Sense8 because of the multiple gay sex scenes, and I tried to explain that while watching a series or movie, we aren't viewing those scenes in order to get turned on, but to develop/compliment the plot and characters. This holds true here, but it also seemed that Kechiceh put a little extra erotic effort into the scenes that went beyond what was necessary. I think it would have been tremendously beneficial if he brought in somebody to consult on some of the scenes, such as the way George Miller brought in Eve Ensler. Actually having real lesbians on set and helping would have added to the realism and made it feel less like Kechiche's fantasy on film.
Aside from just the sex scenes, spotlighting LGBTQ characters and relationships is something we need to see more of, and I hope it continues as a normalized part of the mainstream film/media market... but directors should make the effort to make sure it's presented as well as possible if it's not something they're connected to and knowledgeable about.
Also, the restaurant scene bothered me some. Blue is the Warmest Color does such a great job of making everything feel authentic, from the characters to the settings, to the conversation. But then, we're placed in a restaurant where nobody notices a woman grabbing another woman's hand and having her finger her... and not subtly under the table. So either the service at that place is really horrible where servers never come around, or they have really liberal policies about sexual behavior in public. The women behind Adèle would have had a pretty good view, too, but their expressions when Adèle left said otherwise. Fortunately the diaglogue and emotion in the scene greatly overshadowed the complete lapse of logic, so it was still a strong portion of the story. Especially seeing how people lie to each other, and themselves... as Emma does about not loving Adèle anymore.
I could probably talk about plenty more... film/culture differences, dialogue, as there are always lines that stand out for me, etc, but we can leave some things for discussion... and I feel like I should wrap this up.
I'm glad I broke the veto record. I've wanted to watch this, but 3 hours scared me off a few times. Now that I've seen it, I have to say Blue Is the Warmest Color is the best movie I've watched so far this year, and deserves the accolades and praise it has received. My heart says A+, but writing everything out keeps me grounded. So, while it isn't a perfect movie, it does most things so well, that the gripes I have with it only barely knock off the plus. It's a solid A.